Thursday, January 14, 2016

Aldnoah.Zero Vol. #1 Manga Review

There is no guarantee we'll come back alive.

Creative Staff:
Original Concept: Gen Uroboshi
Story: Olympus Knights
Art: Pinakes
Translation: Sheldon Drzka
Lettering: Brndn Blakeslee, Lys Blakeslee

What They Say:
Fifteen years have passed since the hypergate collapsed on the moon's surface - a catastrophe known as the Heaven's Fall. The war between Earth and the VERS Empire of Mars is now in a cease-fire.

The VERS' Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia descends upon Earth as an ambassador hoping to encourage reconciliation while some citizens are not willing to compromise. Inaho Kaizuka, a Terran high school student... and Slaine Troyard, who swears his allegiance to Princess Asseylum... Their fates cross as both societies watch in horror as a missile crashes on Asseylum's motorcade. This incident marks the beginning of a new war.

The Review:
Content: (Please note that the content portion of the review may contain spoilers)
Aldnoah.Zero -- one of the latest mech dramas to take the world by storm. Originally created by the famed Gen Uroboshi (Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), Aldnoah.Zero (The animation) propelled the series toward early critical acclaim, and ultimately ended with said acclaim falling off near the end as Uroboshi's involvement with the project ceased. About a month after the show's first episode aired, the manga was brought into this world by Olympus Knights and Pinakes in a four-volume "First season." Alas, the manga had a new mountain to climb -- one that would surpass the boundaries of it's source material buried within the anime.

In the beginning of the written series, we are introduced to two different, yet similar species, in the martians and the humans. Lead by their princess Asseylum Vers Allusia, Mars harbors seems to harbor negative feelings toward the beings on Earth -- which they refer to as "Terrans." These Terrans are basically riding in the same boat, with their armed forces keeping a constant eye on the ever-protective Mars. One of the first characters we meet apart from the princess Asseylum is her consort, Slaine Troyard, a mysterious white-haired Terran boy who has mysteriously wound up on the opposite side of the fence. Slaine, looked down on by nearly every natural-born Martian, encourages the princess in her latest idea -- venturing to the planet Earth in an attempt to better the relationships between the two planets. However, things don't exactly work out that way, but we'll get to that in a minute.

On Earth, we are introduced to a boy around the same age as Slaine named Inaho Kaizuka along with several of his classmates and his older sister, Yuki, a Warrant Officer in the Earth Alliance. Inaho seemed to be living a relatively normal life -- at least until the day that Princess Asseylum landed on Earth. Positioned at a parking garage and observing the Martian convoy with his friends, Inaho witnessed an attack made on the princess and the rest of the Martians conducted by Earth themselves. In just one moment, Inaho's life spirals out of control and he is tossed into a war that he feels he must fight in order to preserve the lives of his friends and his sister.

This attack on the princess Asseylum didn't exactly go all that well for Mars. With their beloved monarch out of commission, Mars decides to launch a counterattack on Earth. Headed by 37 different commanders, the Martian forces (Also known as the VERS) rain hell down on Earth in the form of technologically superior mech warriors. Among these commanders is the baron Trillram, accompanied by former-Earthling, Slaine. Slaine, who seems a bit hesitant in aiding the VERS army in slaughtering his former people, eventually bites the bullet and decides to press on with the attack due to his affinity for the princess. But after a chapter and a half of chasing down the presumed attackers of Asseylum, it is revealed that it may not have even been Earth who launched the assassination attempt. In fact, it might be someone closer to him than he can imagine.

The first volume of the manga has a lot going on for it. The story, on paper, seems like a great introduction to a tale of war, with tons of despair and loss to come in the future. Over the three chapters contained in this volume, we are shot back and forth between the dueling perspectives of both Slaine and Inaho. The thing is, this winds up creating some relatively jumbled exposition and unfortunately winds up making some of the characters (Particularly some of the Terrans) seem...well, unimportant would be the best way to put it. With so much time used on crafting intense fight/chase scenes, character introductions seem like sort of an afterthought, which is unfortunate when you consider just how many characters were introduced in such a short time span. To be honest, so many characters were introduced that I can't remember the names of any of them apart from Calm, and that's just because his name is weird as hell. Now, I get that things need to be fast paced because a war has literally just broken out, but if a series plans on killing off characters, and I know this one does, time needs to be spent on making readers actually care about those characters. 

It's not all bad though. Right here, we have a plot that has been re-used throughout the ages -- warring kingdoms. Hell, this time we even have different planets fighting that war instead of different countries or different gangs or whatever. The potential for growth and the overall importance and relatability of a story like this is one that will almost always hit home if done in the right way. The art is pretty spectacular as well and easily shows the attention to detail given by Pinakes. In addition, character design is solid for a good portion of the characters. Unfortunately, not every character seemed like they got a fair treatment as far as that goes. But hey, this is supposed to be set in an almost-realistic environment (I think), so I guess the boring looking characters can just be chalked up to that notion.

In Summary:
I'm not sure how Aldnoah.Zero compares to the actual animated series of the show -- but I think this review is better that way. I have no pre-existing affinities for any particular characters and am essentially a critical bystander to what may or may not be an extravagant war fought for all the wrong reasons. This manga has some spectacular artwork and an almost-gripping story that I expect will become something much bigger than it is after this volume. However, that means that some time will be needed to get this thing where it needs to be in order to succeed in the story department. The characters are basically all forgettable because of the way they were introduced. But once again, with the passage of time, I assume that these characters will either leave an immense impact on me...or die. Honestly, I'm cool with either. 

Content Grade: B-
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: December 15, 2015
MSRP: $12.99

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